On motherhood Actress Kathryn Grody revels in the wonders of 'A Mom's Life'

September 22, 1990|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff

You have to get my bike fixed. I want to ride it in the park!" That's Gideon, Kathryn Grody's 4-year-old, reminding her that it is time to get off the phone.

"I cannot remember who I used to be before this totally dependent-on-me creature came . . . " That's Kathryn Grody, mother of two little boys, reminding her audience that a mom's life is simply not her own.

Tomorrow, Grody, a two-time Obie winner with television and film credits including "Kate and Allie, "My Bodyguard," "Whose Life is it Anyway" and "The Lemon Sisters," spills the sloppy facts of bedtime, Legos and cereal in her one-woman show at Westminster Hall.

"A Mom's Life" is the antidote to a mom's life. For Grody, wife of actor Mandy Patinkin, star of Broadway hits such as "Evita," "Sunday in the Park with George," and featured in movies such as "Yentl," "The Princess Bride" "Alien Nation" and "Dick Tracy," writing and performing this piece was a way of retrieving her own subsumed ego. It is also a play of maternal solidarity that proves life with kids can be infuriating, but never vanilla-bland.

"I think it answered a lot of needs I was feeling," says Grody by phone from her Manhattan apartment, speaking about her creation. Gideon romps in the background, and demands first aid for his flat bicycle tire. "I felt transported to this other 'mom' time nobody else lived in except other mothers.

"I didn't know I would be a completely obsessional parent. Lo and behold you have these feelings. I was getting frustrated that I wasn't seeing this on TV, the theater or films, any of this . . . I felt a great urge to tap into what I felt was a common dilemma: how to have sane children, and stay that way yourself, and have a relationship to boot."

"A Mom's Life" is earthy and easy for upscale baby boomers married with children to relate to. It is not so much a literary benchmark, as a primer to the rapture and the despair a stay-at-home mother with options might experience.

One reviewer -- a woman -- called Grody's piece "probably the best one-woman play ever written about the joys and frustrations of post-feminist, over-educated, middle-class urban motherhood."

Another reviewer -- a man -- called "A Mom's Life" a "long, ranting whine. It might also be argued that there are worse situations than having a wealthy husband and the freedom to raise your children full-time in a sprawling rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side."

"A Mom's Life" leaps and lurches as illogically as the typical day it is drawn from. "Mortality panics" are routine: "I'm afraid of dying young. I'm afraid of not seeing my children turn 30. I'm afraid of the air becoming unbreathable, the sun becoming unbathable. I'm afraid of drunk drivers . . . " Grody laments in unison with an invisible chorus of neurotic mothers.

On top of this, she applies a thick layer of Jewish tsouris, or woes, that seem to be a fact of life, no matter how well things are going. "Is that some kind of ethnic fear? . . . Don't let the god see how happy you are or he will take it all away?" Grody asks, when she experiences a second of bliss on a busy street corner and instantly disowns it.

One moment she is a singing sock, to the amusement of Gideon. The next, Grody laments the disappearance of sexy self into a frumpy, maternal frame. Throughout the piece, she makes a game attempt at writing her story. In the show, of course, she is never successful. But "A Mom's Life" is proof that Grody overcame the mental disarray and "fractured creativity" she kvetches about in the show to capture the daily pathos of motherhood.

Over two years, Grody completed "A Mom's Life" in an office provided by her friend, impresario Joseph Papp, in New York's Public Theater. With the guidance of Papp, and director Timothy Near, she whittled it down from three hours to an hour and a half. The show premiered as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival at the Public. For the performance, Grody wore a salmon-colored T-shirt, the same worn by her husband in his one-man show, "Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual," which ran last year at the Public and on Broadway.

Grody bristles at the notion that her relatively famous family does not have its fair share of uncertainty and money worries. As for their comfortable lifestyle, "Certainly all of that is privilege," Grody says, adding quickly, "My kids don't have their dad [currently in London where he is appearing in a musical based on Ionesco's " Rhinoceros"] for the next month."

However, Grody's maternal angst seems to have stirred up a little retrospective embarrassment. As of this interview, she was considering ways to excise from the show her monologue on the painful process of applying to private schools.

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